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News and Views

Changing lives in Afghanistan One Child at a Time

By Matthew Burch


In 2007, Zaman Rashid and six other Afghan children arrived in the United States for the first time.  As part of a summer program run by the non-profit organization, Solace for Children, Zaman, came to America with the promise of medical care he would never have been able to receive in his home country.   At 15, the boy was in need of a life changing surgery to remove a benign tumor that was giving him terrible headaches, as well as difficulty breathing and speaking.  The surgery, thanks to the generosity of strangers, including an American host family and doctors in North Carolina, was successful.  And the event changed the teenager’s life in more ways than he would ever imagine.  This is just the beginning of Zaman’s story, and the inspiring efforts carried out by Solace for Children’s to bring relief to the children of Afghanistan.

Zaman is now on his fourth trip to the United States, and has become, what Solace for Children’s Carole McKay, calls “the voice of Solace.” He is currently working for the organization as an interpreter for young Afghans coming to the U.S. for the first time.  Zaman’s experiences in the U.S., and continued efforts have helped highlight the work of Solace.  They have “really changed children’s lives,” says Zaman, “I would like to work for Solace forever.”

Most recently, Zaman, now 17, accompanied a 15 year old boy named Najib from the Helmand province of Afghanistan on his trip to the United States.  Najib was injured on August 20, 2009 the same day as the Afghan elections.  He and his brother were riding their bikes to a polling station, curious to see the voting taking place.  A Taliban rocket aimed at an American convoy landed near the boys.  The rocket killed Najib’s brother, and a piece of metal shrapnel left Najib blind in one eye.  With the help of a partner organization in Afghanistan, Solace arranged for Najib to come to the United States.  For many sick and injured children, this journey can prove difficult. Due to the urgency of Naib’s condition, he and Zaman left Afghanistan on a flight to Dubai before the tickets for their connecting flight to the U.S. were even confirmed.  Thankfully, Zaman was able to arrange for their tickets in the Dubai airport and they arrived safely in Washington, D.C.  Since then Najib has undergone surgery to remove the shrapnel and repair the damage to his eye.  The progress has been slow but doctors are hopeful that some of his eyesight will be restored.

Najib is just one of 34 children Solace has brought to the U.S. this past summer.  The program has grown every year since 2007, allowing more and more children access to medical care in the United States.  Solace’s group of volunteers has also been able to accommodate several Afghan children whose medical conditions require a longer stay than their normal six week summer program.  Two young girls have undergone and are now recovering from successful open heart surgeries while another girl is awaiting her heart surgery at Duke Medical Center. A young boy is being treated for a rare blood disorder that requires nightly infusions and a prolonged stay in the U.S.  McKay says the willingness of American host families to take Afghan children into their homes and care for them during a sometimes challenging recovery is one of the strengths Solace for Children thrive on.

For instance, host families play an instrumental role in providing a truly wholesome experience for the children; one that includes more than medical treatment but what Zaman calls a “vacation” from the difficulties they face in Afghanistan.  In North Carolina, the children’s summer is filled with games, fun and sightseeing with their families and other Afghan children.  One of the remarkable aspects of this interaction is that Afghan children are able to meet and relate with children of different Afghan tribes and ethnic groups; an experience they could never get in Afghanistan.  Now, Zaman says, these children “are best friends when they go back [home].” 

The summer is also a chance to experience the United States, and see the “peace and love” that Zaman says he feels is evident.  But sometimes, traveling so far away from your own homeland can turn the spotlight in a surprising way.   While on a sightseeing trip in Washington D.C. Zaman was feeling homesick for his family, friends and country.  To his surprise, his host family explained that there were people representing his country, not too far away, in Washington, at the Embassy of Afghanistan.  Zaman and his family were able to tour the embassy and, to Zaman’s pleasure, meet Afghan Ambassador Said Jawad. 

A few weeks later, back in North Carolina, Zaman was recovering from his surgery on the Muslim holiday of Eid, when he received an unexpected call.  Ambassador Jawad was on the phone wishing him a happy Eid and a speedy recovery.  “Eid is a very important time [and] it meant so much to me,” Zaman said of the phone call.

In the future, Zaman hopes he will be able to study in the United States and then return, “to serve Afghanistan.”  And, of course, he wants to continue his work with Solace for Children.  “They gave me my life back,” he says and he hopes that he can continue to use that gift for the benefit of his country and his people.

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